Appreciating Holland

I would like to share with you “Welcome to Holland,” an essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, the mother of a child with special needs.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability—to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this . . .

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!” you [ask]. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a . . . place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around . . . and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills . . . and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy . . . and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away . . . because the loss of that dream is a very, very, significant loss.

But . . . if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things . . . about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.

The past year-and-a-half, I have had the privilege of “appreciating Holland” on my journey as a personal care attendant. The individual I take care of is nonverbal. God has used her life to bring people in the community to Christ and bless families with a center for respite.

She has a great sense of humor, holds no grudges, and she is a woman of strength and perseverance. God is glorified through her, and I learn from her daily. When I earned my degree in special education, I knew that anything related to the field would be challenging, but I was quickly awakened to a reality I had never experienced.

The American Community Survey noted that in 2015 there were 39,996, 900 individuals—of all ages— reported to have a disability in the United States. Also, “. . . nearly 50% (46.6%) of parents with children that have special needs said they refrained from participating in a religious activity because their child was not included or welcomed.”

If churches are not equipped or willing to welcome and support families and individuals with disabilities, who will come alongside them to show them the love of Christ and point them to God? There is a need.

Please prayerfully join me in considering what each of us can do in our local churches to reach out and show God’s love. Appreciating Holland is not hard; let’s not miss what Holland has to offer!


Grcevich, Stephen. “What Are the Stats on Disability and the Church?” (Feb. 9,2016)
What are the stats on disability and church?

Kingsley, Emily. “Welcome to Holland.” (1987)
Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., and von Schrader, S. “2015 Disability Status Report: United
States.” Ithaca, NY: Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at the Cornell University ILR
School (YTI).

Elizabeth Beers

Elizabeth Beers is a Personal Care Attendant for an adult with disabilities. She has a M.S. in Childhood Special Education and is passionate about seeing more churches become equipped to show the love of Christ to people with special needs and their families. Contact Elizabeth at [email protected]

Three Responses to “Appreciating Holland”

  1. I understand what you mean completely. My son has autism. We are finally with a church that gets it. Michael is never turned away. They love him for his uniquness. People always told me, God only gives special children to special people. If there is any program you think our church should try, let me know. At this time we have no programs set up for special need.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story with me! It is fantastic that your church has a welcoming environment. It is my personal belief that the goal of special needs ministry should not be just to establish program, but to build relationships. If your child is able to use their God given talents to serve and participate fully in church, that is the most important part.
      If the church would like to start outreach programs to attract families in the community that have special needs I would suggest getting a core group of people together to start the ministry. There is not a specific disability program that is perfect for every church. What you choose to develop will depend on the church’s demographics. Perhaps using a survey in the church to identify current needs would help give leaders an idea of where to start.
      Having people that comfort families through the initial diagnosis of their loved one, respite nights, support groups for parents, caregivers and siblings are all helpful, or hosting a Nigh to Shine could also be a great way for the church to get involved.
      Programs take time to develop, start small but do it well. For example, in the beginning maybe you are only focusing on including children in regular classrooms and then branch out to a support group once what you started is stable and thriving.
      Key Ministry has a lot of free resources you could browse to get ideas from. Feel free to contact me if you have more questions.

  2. So appreciate your reminder to the church to open their arms to children and families with disabilities! What you say, “If churches are not equipped or willing to welcome and support families and individuals with disabilities, who will come alongside them to show them the love of Christ and point them to God?” is so true! Appreciate your heart for all of God’s children! May God specifically equip each church to answer this call!

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